The Rays beat the Orioles 5-4, thanks mostly to a smoking hot bullpen and a weak Orioles defense. The Rays hardest hit balls were straight into the gloves of defenders, largely right fielder Austin Hays. Their five runs came largely on weak hits that were either slightly or badly misplayed by Baltimore. In short, it was not a glorious game, but over a 162 game season there will surely be well-played losses and lucky wins. This was the latter.
The first inning was the baseball version of “death by a thousand cuts” for Baltimore and their starter, Jorge Lopez. The Rays scored three runs with scarcely a hard hit ball. Brandon Lowe let off with a single, Yandy Diaz walked. Lowe was able to move to third on Walls’ sac fly. And then came a succession of dribblers that Baltimore infielders could not corral, and the Rays plated three runs. No, there were no errors, just meh fielding. Pitcher Lopez wasn’t entirely blame-free, his command was terrible and he struggled to stay ahead of batters.
Lopez rediscovered the strike zone and had an uneventful second and third innings. In the fourth, however, a combination of poor pitch location and shaky defense helped the Rays to another two runs. Kiermaier singled (and was replaced at first by Zunino who grounded into a force out). Then Brett Phillips was hit by a pitch, which led to the very funny moment below:
— Bally Sports Sun: Rays (@BallyRays) June 12, 2021
Phillips and Lopez were apparently former minor league teammates; when Phillips said something to the pitcher after being struck on the shoulder, it was clear that the umpire and the catcher thought we were seeing the beginning of a fight. Clearly they don’t know Phillips!
Brandon Lowe followed with a two-RBI double that bounced over the head of right fielder Mountcastle. My guess is that Mountcastle was positioned appropriately to nab the bounce were they playing on grass, but the turf plays differently. Again, no error on the play but his misplay of the bad bounce probably cost his team a run.
Hill had been cruising through four innings – just one walk and one hit, with both runners erased by double plays. But he wobbled in the fifth, giving up a lead off walk and then a hard single, then another walk. With two outs and then not-great-hitting catcher Austin Wynns coming up, however, the bases loaded situation didn’t much worry me.
But sometimes we need a reminder that any major leaguer is capable of hitting one out. And that’s what Wynns did. This so-lopsided-I-was-working-on-the-crossword-puzzle game was suddenly close.
One Orioles hit later, Hill was gone and Ryan Thompson came in to end the inning.
The Rays continued to mount mini-threats that fizzled. Most notably in the bottom of the seventh, the Orioles outfield had a “best of times, worst of times” moment. After a walk to Diaz, Meadows hit a nothing popup to shallow right field. It should have been Mountcastle’s ball but he pulled up and left it to shortshop Freddy Galvis, who reached the ball but dropped it. With runners at first and second, Wendle hit a liner that looked like it would be a sure double — but in this case right fielder Hays made an outstanding leaping catch for the out.
The real heroes of this game were the Rays relievers. Messrs. Thompson, McHugh, Fairbanks, and Castillo combined to give up just two hits, no walks, and to induce six strike outs in the 4.1 innings they covered. McHugh was especially strong. He struck out the side in the sixth, making quick work of it too. A few hitters made contact in the seventh but he still managed two more strikeouts.
With the Red Sox losing today, the Rays get a tiny bit of breathing room in the standings as they go for the sweep tomorrow.